June 11, 2003

Like nearly every other day this spring, today was a day I worked until 5pm. Working this late in the afternoon really cut down on my chasing this spring, but there were a few days I was able to pull off a quick chase if things happened within 150 miles of Norman. Once I got home today, it was apparent this was going to be one of those days. A surface low was situated along the Red River between Childress and Wichita Falls, with a dryline bulging into southwestern Oklahoma. Instability was enormous and winds were backed northeast of the low - surface temperatures in southwestern Oklahoma were in the low to mid 90s and dewpoints were in the mid to upper 70s. Although upper level winds would be weak today, all of the other aforementioned factors strongly suggested that I go out today. Once I pulled up satellite and radar images showing a small, isolated cell with a circular anvil in Kiowa County, that did it for me - I was out the door.

I left Norman at 6pm, and took the Bailey Extension and Turnpike to Chickasha. From Chickasha, I went west on US 62 to Anadarko, and followed US 62 southwest and south to Apache. As I approached Apache, I began to notice my winds were out of the due east, and inflow bands were streaming in from the east. The surface inflow and the motion on the inflow bands was nowhere near as intense as what I saw in New Mexico a week earlier, but still, it was inflow. From Apache, I took Hwy 19 west past Boone, then went north a couple of miles on Hwy 58. Here I began to make out a shelf cloud which was quite photogenic, so I stopped briefly to take some pictures. The shelf was colored like a CD, with tinges of green, silver, and purple. I stayed in the car to take pictures however, as CG's from the anvil were striking nearby. After I got my pictures, I dropped south on Hwy 58 to find the updraft base. I caught sight of it around the time I got to Lake Lawtonka. When I got to the end of Hwy 58, I went west of Hwy 49 through the Wichita Mountains. Yes, this would slow me down quite a bit, but since the storm was not moving towards me at a high rate of speed I did not feel this road would pose an excessive risk. Plus, the scenery was awesome - with the storm casting an eerie deep bluish pall over the mountains with bright orange light from the late day sun trying to sneak in from the south. I then dropped south on Hwy 115, where I began to see a field of mammatus from storms further to my south begin to get illuminated by the setting sun. I continued on to Cache, where I looked for a place to pull over and get pictures. I pull up to an empty bank parking lot to try getting pictures, when POW!!! Lightning hit a power pole no more than 50 feet from me! Other cloud to ground lightning strikes hit within 500 feet of me in rapid succession, so I decided to get out of there and try another place to set up. I took US 62 east out of Cache, then took the Deyo exit south. I meandered east into the extreme northwest part of Lawton, where I found an empty parking lot to get my mammatus pictures. All the while copious amounts of lightning was striking just to my north over the Wichita Mountains. I then headed on back towards US 62, when I saw a big shelf cloud filling the sky to my west and northwest. But darkness was now setting in, so I decided to start heading on back to Norman. The best show of the day was yet to come, however.

As I was heading east on US 62 towards Lawton, I began to notice it was becoming difficult to steer the car. I looked at some trees nearby, and realized, "hey, it's really windy out there!" I had begun to encounter outflow from the storm, which buffeted me with a crosswind of about 50 mph. By the time I got to the kink in the highway on the west side of town, I started to get into some rain as well. But this rain and wind was nothing compared to what was in store for me once I got back on the Turnpike. As I passed the Fort Sill exit, the wind and the rain increased in intensity dramatically. I had to slow down to about 25 mph as the rain was so intense I could barely see past the hood of my car. Hail began slam against my car sporadically - I could not see any stones, but from the sound I imagine they were probably marble to dime sized. Because my visibility was so bad, I had no clue exactly how strong the winds were - until I caught a glimpse of the highway speed limit signs flexing as if they were made of 8 1/2 x 11 typing paper!!!! Numerous cars were parked on the side of the turnpike, but knowing that is a good way to get rear ended, I decided not to pull over and continued to proceed cautiously at 20 mph. After about 10 minutes, the visibility started to improve a little and the wind began to die down. Before long, I was able to increase my speed back up to 70 mph, slowing down occasionally to dodge the numerous construction barrels which had been toppled by the wind. Frequent lightning and moderate rain was occurring in Norman when I arrived back around 10:30pm.

Today's chase gets a 10 out of 15. Lots of photogenic lightning and mammatus today, and a high wind encounter which perhaps equalled my high wind encounter on May 27, 2001. I would guess I encountered winds as high as 70-75 mph on the turnpike. This storm had a history of producing wind damage throughout Comanche County - with a car reportedly blown off the road in Cache, and boats damaged at Lake Lawtonka. A wind gust of 81 mph was measured at Medicine Park. Despite this, at least one person wasn't overly impressed by the storm. When I stopped at a tollbooth to pay toll, the toll collector asked me if people were stopping along the side of the road. When I told him they had, his response was, "I don't know why they do that. It's just a spring breeze." Man I'd hate to see what his definition of "wind" is......

Total Mileage: 231 miles
Total Driving Time: 4 hours, 39 minutes

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